faith in action

United Methodists from 5 Jurisdictions Gather to Discuss Immigration

“Sanctuary is more than a word, it’s what you do,” began Bishop Minvera Carcaño at the Interagency task force National Gathering on Immigration. From March 11-14, United Methodists from every jurisdiction came to Washington, D.C. to strategize on how to respond to immigration issues in this moment.

“We’re at a critical point in our country on civil and human rights,” Kristin Kumpf, director of organizing at Church and Society, said.

“There are a lot of people who are really vulnerable, especially immigrants and refugees. As United Methodists, we have always stood with people in need of justice. We need to stand with our immigrant brothers and sisters at this time.”

A Variety of People and Policies

Immigration issues encompass a variety of people and policies. The United Methodist Church believes that everyone deserves dignity and has civil and human rights. The UMC supports immigration reform with a path to citizenship for undocumented people, keeping families together, and ending family detention. The United Methodist Church also advocates for accepting and welcoming refugees, regardless of race, religion, or country of origin.

Church and Society was intentional about inviting teams from every conference and jurisdiction. The goal of the gathering was for people to return to their jurisdictions and annual conferences to do regional trainings, creating a domino-effect of training on immigration issues.

The 37 United Methodist clergy and laity who attended the event came from the California-Pacific, California-Nevada, Idaho-Oregon, Rocky Mountain, Northern Illinois, New York, New England, Great Plains, Central Texas, Rio Texas, Northern Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, Virginia, Eastern Pennsylvania, and New Jersey conferences. Several agencies also participated, including MARCHA, United Methodist Communications, United Methodist Women, General Commission on Religion and Race, General Board of Global Ministries, and National Justice for our Neighbors.

“We wanted to bring together leaders from across the denomination, both episcopal leaders, agency leaders and grassroots leaders. We needed all these voices and groups of people,” Kumpf said. “The goals were to give people space to share their stories and experiences, and to craft a vision for our denomination so we can more strategically engage in immigrant justice.”

The Current Reality

Due to increased aggression by ICE and border patrol under the new U.S. administration, Bishop Carcaño led the initiative to hold this meeting and unite the denomination around immigration issues. Throughout the conference, participants broke into jurisdictional teams to discuss how they would address these issues at the jurisdictional, annual conference, and local church level.

“We agreed, as part of our visions, we have four major focuses: sanctuary churches, care for women and children, youth, and just policies,” Kumpf said.

Bishop Carcaño emphasized that the denomination needs to redefine sanctuary. To most people, sanctuary is offering physical safety to undocumented persons or families threatened by detention or deportation so that their right to due process and legal redress of any grievances they may have may be addressed. Bishop Carcaño believes in a broader definition of sanctuary that includes welcoming immigrants into your denomination, having Bible studies about immigrant justice, providing pastoral care and counseling to immigrants, and organizing and advocating for immigration reform.

Women and Children

The women and children focus largely relies on Justice for our Neighbors (JFON), a United Methodist immigration ministry that provides legal counsel to low-income immigrants. With the amount of unaccompanied minors arriving from Central America expected to increase, it is crucial that JFON is prepared to help. Women and children are often victims of violence as they migrate to the United States across Central America and Mexico. Too many women are also victims of domestic abuse, often dependent on receiving their legal documentation through the very men who hurt them. Undocumented women and their children live daily under the possibility that they could at any moment be separated due to ICE raids, detention and deportation. The UMC must support immigrant women and children as we resist injustice as a church.

Immigrant Youth

Immigrant youth is another community the national gathering focused on. Protecting youth who are DACA recipients, keeping families together when children are U.S. citizens and parents are undocumented, and encouraging and engaging immigrant youth and the children of immigrants in the UMC are all priorities of the interagency immigration task force. The task force is also encouraging United Methodist colleges, universities and seminaries to stand by their immigrant students through counseling, financial assistance, and supporting DACA students.

The interagency task force’s goal of promoting just policies relates to the church’s direct and grassroots advocacy efforts. The UMC is opposed to building a wall on the southern border of the United States, banning refugees based on country of origin, race, or religion, separating families, and the operation of private detention centers. The UMC supports and will continue to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for undocumented persons, as well as continuation of DACA and the DREAM Act. Through local trainings, partnerships with ecumenical and interfaith organizations, the interagency task force on immigration hopes to equip more people to advocate for immigrant justice, both directly and indirectly.

A video of the gathering can be viewed here.

Maria Penrod is a Church and Society fellow, who has spent the last few months focusing on communications and issues of immigration.